October 14, 2014

In Honour of Ada Lovelace

ald2Today, October 14, 2014, is Ada Lovelace Day – an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Ada was the world’s first female computer programmer – a true icon and pioneer.

Denise and I are bringing up our two girls with a focus on STEM with equal footing to writing, art, physical exercise, reading and social skills. Ours is a house where STEM is encouraged not frowned upon.

When Claire –  our eldest of three children – asked me one day if she could have her own blog, given she saw ‘Daddio’ doing it on a ‘more-than-regular-basis’, the answer was rather obvious. “Yes of course dear,” I replied with pride oozing out of every orifice. “Let’s pick that apple up off the ground beside the tree and see how we make it happen.”

Sadly, the metaphor was lost on her, but we got to work anyway.

Without hesitation, and within a matter of minutes, we had secured www.clairepontefract.com and opened up a WordPress site attaching it to the new domain name. (Thank the Lord there are no other Claire Pontefract’s on the planet.)

Of course, that got me thinking I should reserve www.colepontefract.com for the middle child boy and www.catepontefract.com for the third-born child, so it was a rather expensive day.

Back to Claire. She was eight years old in September of 2011 and part of the reason for wanting a blog was due to starting a new school, in a new city. She wanted a means to communicate her feelings, thoughts and ideas about such a transition. Her first post is more of an introduction, “new school. new community.” but you get the picture. I’ve always said, “behaviour before tool, and form before function” … and in this case, Claire was eager to share and communicate, not to use it as a basis for fame and/or fortune.

I was rather proud of her request. After all, she was only eight years old. I might have been in awe as well. Some have scoffed, and suggested we shouldn’t allow a young child to write in the open, divulging her real name, photos, etc. on the internet. That’s not the way we’re raising the children. The digital train left the station long ago, and our approach as parents and educators is to raise them with sufficient knowledge, STEM skills, experience and understanding about what is right and wrong in the digital hemispheres that Al Gore created for us. (bless him) If that means instructing the girls about digital predators, “bad men” and so on, how is it different from teaching them what to do in face-to-face interactions? Is learning HTML a sin?

For the record, I’ve never received an apple on Halloween with a razor blade embedded in the core, but we still check any apples that pop out of the Halloween goodie sack … out of habit from when we were children. That’s akin to letting the wee ones publicly blog, while teaching them about the good and the not-so-good of the interwebs. It should become a habit. It should become a STEM skill.

Our youngest, Cate, started kindergarten as a five-year old in 2012. Drenched in tears and a quivering lip, Cate approached Denise and I one day in early November and asked if she could start her own blog, like her big sister Claire, and of course, big brother Cole. (He had started his own blog six months earlier.) The tears stemmed from the death of our cat, Polly. Like Claire, she wanted to use the blog as a vehicle to communicate, and with her first post entitled, “How Polly Died,” Cate launched herself into the blogosphere rivaling only Robert Scoble. (Well, when he was actually blogging and not centralizing his blogging world to Facebook.)

And no, it wasn’t a typo.

She was five.

There are other reasons for allowing such public prose.

ada-coverFirst of all, it’s a means to learning better grammar and spelling. Every story or blog post is vetted by one of the (still) happily married parents (thank you scrumptious red wine), and we use it as a teaching moment. Sometimes we sit around discussing topics or ideas, which is (I suppose) a form of family brain-storming. (hashtag #nerdfamily) What we’re trying to do somewhat surreptitiously is to improve the creativity processes and imagination habits of a wee mind.

Secondly, no post can be published unless pre-approved by a parent. (see above) That’s where the Mommio-Daddio hierarchy kicks in.

Thirdly, being in the open is where the world is heading and we’d rather the girls be leaders in “open communication” than followers. We’d rather they be STEM leaders than not. A couple of examples come to mind. Claire loves to write about what influences her, so stories about leadership and people like Simon Ibell, Terry Fox or Rosa Parks can be found on the site. She not only learns from the writing process, she may get a comment or question or two that helps to reinforce the learning.

In the case of Cate, while younger than her older sister by four years, it’s still an opportunity to express feelings and opinions. Aside from the death of Polly, Cate will reflect (publicly) on issues like the environment or fallen soldiers.

So, Claire – now 11 – has been writing away for over three years where there have been nearly 10,000 views and 750 non-spam comments on her 75 posts. (you know, real ones from real people) She’s chuffed at the interaction she gets, that is for certain.

The younger prodigy, Cate – now 7 – has been writing for two years and has 3,200 views and 220 comments. She musters up the energy to normally write twice a month. (that’s after she is forced to cook all the meals, clean the dishes, and put out the trash … obviously)

If you’re unaware of my humour, I’m kidding.

I suppose you might say that by allowing (and thus teaching) the habits of blogging with the girls, we’re also instilling a sense of community, connection and of course pride when people view or comment on their writing.

I wouldn’t want it any other way, and I reckon the girls are in the same boat.

It’s a bit of a social science experiment – after all, anything related to parenting is a real-time experiment as there is no agreed upon blueprint – but I truly believe in the long run, this will be a good thing for them and not the opposite. Blogging — and writing in the open — is a compliment to STEM, and ultimately to Ada Lovelace.

And then one day, a different Claire Pontefract reached out to me on Twitter — based in Northern England — and I breathed a large sigh of relief knowing there will only ever be one www.clairepontefract.com out there. True story.

Pass the wine.


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